The Enneagram is good until it’s not.

A few years ago I first heard about the Enneagram from an author I follow and wondered if he had turned to devil worship when the pentagram-esque logo popped up in my Google search.

And—after learning that my first glance was incorrect—the system has since reshaped a number of the ways I look at the world. Learning about my type provided a clear framework to unravel both positive and negative habits and behaviors I’ve developed, and to choose how to move forward in light of them.

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Lately, however, I’ve felt a distaste for the whole thing. Not because it’s any less valuable, but because I’ve heard people use it—with complete good intent—in ways that are outright dangerous.

Like anything, it’s good until it’s not.

I’m no psychologist. Therapist. Or any other kind of —ist.

So take this as you will.

But here are a few guidelines we should follow around the Enneagram.

None of them groundbreaking.

All of them necessary.


Stop using the Enneagram to…
Make cheap assumptions.

“Katie, you’re a 7. Make something fun happen.”
“Jack’s a 9. So he probably doesn’t want to hang tonight.”
“I like, can’t marry Jason anymore, he told me at dinner he’s a 6. You know how I feel about sixes.”

There are 7 billion people in the world with 7 billion unique personalities. Don’t assume what somebody is thinking, what they want, or who they should marry. People grow and change. Give them the space to do so.

Your false assumptions are robbing people of opportunities to surprise you.


Stop using the Enneagram to…
Bring people down.

“You’re being such a 5 right now.”
“You 2’s are so needy.”

Great. I hope you feel good about picking up on somebody’s deepest flaws and exposing them to the world. I’m sure they love that.

You know how you remember when Big Jimmy called you tubby on the 3rd grade playground? Or when Claire told you that you just weren’t good enough to take her to the Homecoming dance?  (Just me?) That’s because they made declarations about your identity. You, in turn, questioned whether their declaration was true for years afterward.

The same rings true here.


Stop using the Enneagram to…
Declare somebody’s type over them.

“You don’t like personality tests? You’re probably an 8.”
“That test said you’re a 1? No way, you’re a 4 for sure.”

To which your friend—who’s actually a 3—spends the rest of his days wondering why you thought he was such an emotional trainwreck.

Again, identity is a huge deal. People spend their whole lives questioning who they are. You’re not going to figure it all out in a few weeks. The self-discovery process is way better than believing the cheap opinion of any self-identified Enneagram Yoda.

When it comes to other people, do exactly what your 7th grade teacher told you.

Keep your eyes on your own paper.


Stop using the Enneagram to…
Make Excuses.

“You know I can’t commit to coming with you next week, I’m a 7!”
“Sure I’m a jerk, it’s because I’m an 8. You’ll have to get over it.”

Identifying your wiring is good, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t move past it. The whole point of learning your personality is discovering the patterns and habits you developed in the past that hinder you from moving forward today.

In the most positive way I can say it, get over yourself.

There are better things ahead.


So, is the Enneagram good for anything?

Absolutely.

I love it.

When used the right way, it’s a foundational tool for becoming a healthier version of You.

What’s not to like about that?

Again, I’m no —ist. But here’s what it’s really good for. 


Start using the Enneagram for…
Self-Discovery.

Understanding your true self is a spiritual experience we all should embrace. Every action you ever take flows from your soul. Personality systems are a headlamp for exploring new depths of your own personality.

It took me 8 months to feel confident in my number. Getting there took hours of processing all the things I thought I knew about my world. I broke it all to pieces and began reconstructing things in a completely new way. The experience of identifying my own wiring was awkward and messy and so good.

The valley between who I am and who I want to be is still daunting, but I’m no longer walking through life half-asleep. Unable to get any closer to the other side.


Start using the Enneagram for…
Cultivating Empathy.

The Enneagram has given me a fresh understanding of other people’s perspectives. Namely, that your perspective is not my perspective and that is great. No personality system can accurately describe the intricacies of each person on the planet, but it has opened doors for more conversations than ever with my friends about how they see the world.

Turns out my way of living is not the right way, it’s just another way.

Where I used to have answers, now I’m left with questions.

What are you learning about yourself?
What are you afraid of?
What do you love?
What do you think about during the day?

The more I ask, the more respect I have for the depth of the human experience.

Even when I can’t understand it, I can imagine what somebody else might be feeling. That kind of perspective breeds empathy, and empathy always wins.


Here’s the bottom line.

Quit telling people who they are, and quit believing you are the person other people say you are. There’s too much opportunity ahead of you to worry about those things.

Instead, if you’re going to embrace the Enneagram, use it as an opportunity to grow in self-knowledge and empathy.

We’ll all get better when you do.

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